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Battle erupts over calls to halt frenzy of waste export to Asia

By Greg Pitcher

The export of waste to Asia was fiercely defended this week as fresh condemnation was poured onto the practice.

Figures released by the Environment Agency and reported in the national press showed that more than 200,000 tonnes of plastic and 500,000 tonnes of paper recovered in the UK is likely to end up in China this year.

This led to calls from environmental groups, politicians and recyclers for action to keep more material in the UK.

But exporters denied they were doing anything wrong and the Bureau of International Recycling (BIR) pledged to uphold the right to free trade.

The extent to which the UK was sending its waste to the Far East for recycling was widely criticised after the figures were released this week.

Pressure group Greenpeace called for a ban on packaging recovery notes (PRNs) for waste exports. Liberal Democrat MP Sue Doughty called for intervention to stimulate the UK reprocessing market.

Greenpeace campaigner Mark Strutt said: It is a cop out for companies responsible for recycling their waste to send it abroad.

The proximity principle stands. It is highly questionable whether there is an environmental benefit to sending waste to be recycled in China.

We are an industrialised country and are perfectly capable of dealing with our own waste. China should not have to accept the environmental impact of recycling.

People have to ask themselves why it is cheaper to send waste abroad is it due to cheap labour and lax environmental controls? And how do we know waste is actually being recycled when it is that far away?

We would like to see a ban on exported waste under the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations. Companies sending waste abroad should not get PRNs.

Doughty added: Much more needs to be done to stimulate the markets in the UK so that waste is handled as close as possible to the point of generation.


JFC Delleve was awarded £1 million by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) earlier this year to help it create a UK market for recovered plastic.

The St Helens firm makes underground drainage piping from waste plastic containers but has found it hard to source the material from the UK.

General manager Lee Clayton said a great deal more investment was needed to stop all the locally collected waste plastic going to China.

I think we are seeing a significant increase in the collection of plastics by local authorities, who are looking to get the best price they can for the material, he said.

We cannot compete with China on price because they have much lower labour costs and we are in a very labour-intensive business.

I recognise the need for export, but I would rather close the loop and see material coming to us and staying in the UK market.

Our facility is just a drop in the ocean, we need more investment otherwise material will keep going out of the UK.

However, BIR confirmed it would continue to oppose any attempt to stop waste being traded between countries.

The Italian president of the global recycling trade association, Fernando Duranti, said it would fight attempts to impose export controls.

A BIR statement said Duranti stressed that free and fair trade was of vital importance to everyone involved in buying, selling, importing and exporting raw materials.

He also stated that the BIR would continue to offer its support to other regional organisations and, in particular, to European trade federations in opposing any form of export controls.

Valpak this month opened a Chinese office for its subsidiary Valient Recycling to keep a close eye on the 15,000 tonnes of material it intends to send there in the last three months of the year.

Valient Recycling general manager Mike Jefferson said: We recognise the need for export, particularly when certain grades of material have limited outlets or their collection exceeds UK reprocessi

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